Cricket: Matador Cup sophomore season

Victoria celebrate a wicket at Blacktown (photo: Getty Images)
Victoria celebrate a wicket at Blacktown (photo: Getty Images)

We’re coming to the end of the first competition of the Australian domestic cricket season, and, after two seasons in operation, the applause has been evident.

While there are some pointed flaws, and sparse crowds, the TV audiences and quality of cricket that has been on show continues to grow.  The decision to move the competition from Fox Sports across to free-to-air channel GEM last year paid dividends.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of fans watching the competition is the fact that the competition was again held in New South Wales; however, the first salvo of matches was played up in Queensland.  It does raise the issue though that states such as Victoria and South Australia were not given a go at hosting.

Keeping venues aside, some very good performances have been on full display since the start of the tournament on October 4.  Tasmania scored 398 at the postage stamp North Sydney Oval, yet Queensland chased that total down and smashed their way to just beyond 400.

Josh Hazelwood snared 7/36 against South Australia in the first weekend, in a 10-over spell of incredible bowling.  New South Wales had two incredible chases – both at Blacktown Oval – against Victoria and Queensland respectively, where both matches came down to the final over.

Wherever you look, there was rarely a bad game.  The exception, however, might be Victoria.  With just two wins from an allotted seven games, and lacklustre performances, many critics hit the Bushrangers with questions.  The squad was undoubtedly experienced – David Hussey, Cameron White and John Hastings pop out as names – but around them, there was too much of a focus on big hitting, short bowling, and fielding mistakes cost Victoria.

Put that aside for a moment, and the competition has produced some of the best left-arm bowling seen in the domestic competition for a while.  Sam Rainbird (Tasmania), Doug Bollinger (New South Wales), and Joel Paris and Jason Behrendorff (both Western Australia) have taken 39 wickets between them, before the start of Sunday’s final.

Some underrated – and also big-hitting – talent has come through the batting stocks too; Victoria’s Marcus Stoinis showed great composure and strokeplay through each of his half-centuries, but just couldn’t go on to three figures.  Ben Dunk catapulted his way to an enormous 229* against Queensland, in some of the cleanest hitting ever seen.

The condensation of the one-day competition into a three/four week period from an October-February time period really has given a new lease of life into the format.

Aimed at allowing players to focus on one format at a time, rather than chop-and-change between first class, Twenty20 and One-Day cricket, the biggest drawback is the one-state hosting rights.  The MCG, Adelaide Oval and the WACA have all been quiet at the start of this summer – and last – as New South Wales, and this year, Queensland, took control.

We were shown the quality of the state talent pool, but many fans could not see it – except for the TV.  James Sutherland, prior to the reshuffle of the competition, stated that the 2015 World Cup was a key reason for switching the format.

“While this move is a more expensive option for CA, our Team Performance unit believes replicating a tournament style competition for One Day cricket is the best way of preparing our One Day cricketers for One Day Internationals and the World Cup in early 2015.”

Friday’s incredible preliminary final between New South Wales and Queensland – in which the Blues snared a last-gasp two wicket victory – is a testament to why the competition is still extremely successful.  It is good growth for a competition now in the second season of its current format.

Perhaps the biggest solution is to give other states a “go” next time.  That is, Victoria or South Australia.  While two states hosted this year, there was no overlap.  For the competition in its current presence to continue to grow, it needs to be shared.

Otherwise, the switch to FTA TV has done wonders for the audience, and the engagement too.  The addition of Stuart Clark, Ryan Harris and Meg Lanning in the commentary box – to name a few – this season is a new dimension that the fans have also welcomed.

Today’s final between New South Wales and Western Australia will be a thriller.  If Western Australia bowl first, their stronger bowling attack will have a very good chance of giving their batsmen something to chase down.  However, New South Wales have a balanced XI that will put anyone to all corners of the Sydney Cricket Ground if they have the chance.


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